The Truth is Powerful

The Bleak Commercial Politics of ‘Space Jam’

The semi-animated 1996 basketball movie “Space Jam” was an unlikely cult classic. Goofy and shamelessly commercial, it got a lukewarm critical reception at best; the film was literally based on a Nike TV ad . But its feather-light touch and zeitgeist-y flair made it a touchstone for the generation who grew up during the reign of Michael Jordan and the ascendancy of the Dream Team and the general post-history vibe of the 1990s.

This weekend — a quarter-century later, as every millennial reading this will cringe to acknowledge — Warner Bros. released its sequel, “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” On the surface, they’re alike in almost every way: equally slight, accompanied by a slew of merchandising tie-ins, Michael Jordan neatly replaced by his basketball successor LeBron James. The main differences are superficial, with the passage of time reflected in both the new film’s video-game-quality CG animation and a slew of updated cultural references and cameos.

But to anyone paying attention to the world outside, they’re radically different in one important way. The original “Space Jam,” crass as it may have been, was harmless ‘90s fluff. Its successor, arriving in 2021, borders on a moral affront.

Over the past decade, the NBA has […]

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